DATAx insights: Helping users trust AI in healthcare

AI is becoming an important facet of healthcare, but before all patients can trust the technology, we will need to overcome several hurdles and embrace transparency


AI is becoming a central facet of the modern healthcare system, with Accenture predicting the AI healthcare market will value $6.6bn by 2021, yet many medical professionals and everyday patients in need of care have no understanding of intelligent machines and the role they are coming to play in our hospitals. If robotic doctors, algorithms and software programs that can bolster positive patient outcomes are going to remain central to the healthcare system for long, we will need to work as a society towards establishing trust between AI and users.

Patients are already warming up to robots

Patients across the US are already warming up to robots, especially since recent research indicates that certain patients are just as comfortable talking to a machine as they are to a real human expert. Illini Community Hospital in Illinois recently uncovered the fact that psychiatric patients actually prefer robots over an in-person visit with a doctor, an illustrative fact that demonstrates modern society is increasingly warming up to the role of machines in the workforce.

The hospital's findings are surprising to some, but modern consumers are deeply familiar with tech being an integral part of their lives. After all, most people spend all day plugged into the network through their smartphones, tablets and computers, making it a logical next step that tech should become a major part of our healthcare delivery networks. Nonetheless, many logically feared that machines could come across as cold and unfeeling to patients, yet users are demonstrating that this fear is not necessarily based in reality.

Patients are clearly indicating that robots make medical communication easier, which is a good sign for the future of the healthcare industry. With a larger number of patients than ever before expected to keep swamping medical providers across the country for the foreseeable future, doctors and other medical experts will need as much help as they can get when it comes to communicating with a diverse array of patients who suffer from a myriad of illnesses. Building user trust with AI in healthcare is going to become a central part of many medical professional's roles in the near-future, as interfacing between patients and the machines they trust is becoming a part of daily life in hospitals.

AI is worthy of our trust

In his book Deep Medicine, Dr. Eric Topol argues persuasively that the role of AI in the modern hospital is only going to grow in coming years and will lead to fewer health insurance disputes. Asserting that automated diagnostics will soon become so cheap to the point where they can be widely employed even in cash-strapped hospitals, the author asserts that intelligent machines will come to replace human workers when it comes to the more mundane elements of providing healthcare. Human expertise will remain crucial, he points out, especially when it comes to interacting with patients and getting them to feel comfortable with the procedures that are about to be conducted.

Just because AI is worthy of the trust of medical officials does not mean that the public is going to leap into the open arms of their robot caregivers, however. Medical professionals will find it important to champion good examples of AI in the healthcare industry if they want users in the future to go along willingly with their proposed, AI-driven remedies. There is a clear need for AI in education, as both medical students and the general public must be briefed on the exciting ways this technology is changing the world if they are going to become trusting of it.

Medical professionals must champion transparency

To help users trust AI in healthcare, transparency must be openly championed at every opportunity. Doctors need to openly discuss the ethical implications of enlisting the help of intelligent machines in the workplace, and public conversation surrounding the rise of the robots in the workforce should be welcomed rather than dreaded. Though widespread fears of job loss to automation continue to persist amongst the general public, educated experts must make it clear that AI is coming to help rather than hinder our ability to be productive agents of the economy.

IBM's leading work on AI should be thoroughly reviewed by any medical expert interested in AI as the company has for years focused on transparency and explaining its AI operations because it understands that such a strategy is the only way to win over the trust of cautious consumers. Healthcare experts will find it necessary to sit down with patients in the near-future to discuss the role of robots in the hospital, so if they are not up to date on this technology they’re in for a rough ride. 

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